Robert O. Tiernan was an attorney, member of the Rhode Island General Assembly, member of the United States House of Representatives and a high-ranking federal government official during his career of public service.
Born in Providence on February 24, 1929 to Joseph and Mary (nee McConnell), Tiernan attended LaSalle Academy where he achieved All State hockey honors in 1947 and starred in the 440 yard dash. After graduation he went on to Providence College where he excelled as a track and cross country athlete. He graduated from Providence in 1953 and enrolled in law school at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. graduating in 1956. He returned to Providence to begin a private law practice.
Tiernan entered state politics and was elected to the Rhode Island State Senate in 1960 representing Warwick. He served six years inthe state government. In March 1967 he won a close special election defeating Cranston Mayor James DiPrete to succeed 12-term U.S. Congressman John E. Fogarty (RIHHoF 1967) who had died in January of a heart attack. He entered the 90th Congress and would go on to serve three terms in the U.S. House. Tiernan became widely known for establishing top-flight “advisory council” to work with him on an array of domestic and foreign policy issues. That 18-member council consisted of lawyers, skilled politicians and a collection of scholars from Brown University, Providence College and the University of Rhode Island three of whom became Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame inductees. It was chaired by Patrick T.Conley who became Tiernan’s lifetime friend. Tiernan, who was noted for his amiable personality, became a close friend and protege of House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill and a good friend of the Kennedys. He quickly earned a post on the powerful House Appropriations Committee despite his lack of seniority.
In 1974 Tiernan was unexpectedly defeated by state representative and Cranston house painter Edward Beard by 1,624 votes in the Democratic primary. Beard went on to win the seat in the general election. A year later through the considerable influence of House Speaker Carl Albert (D-OK), Tiernan was appointed to a $50,000-a-year position to the newly formed Federal Election Commission (FEC) by President Gerald Ford eventually becoming its chairman in 1979 through its members’ rotation to the position. He left the FEC in 1981 and returned to Rhode Island to resume his private law practice.
During his tenure at the FEC, Tiernan served as President and Treasurer of the Rhode Island Reds hockey team of the American Hockey League (AHL) which played its home games at the iconic Rhode Island Auditorium located on North Main Street in Providence. The AHL folded in 1977 and the Reds moved to Binghamton, NewYork as the Binghamton Dusters. The Reds and their various affiliations are the oldest continuously operating minor-league hockey franchise in North America having fielded a team in one form or another dating back to 1926 in the Canadian-American Hockey League (CAHL). The former Reds and American Hockey League returned to Providence in 1992 as the Providence Bruins affiliate of their National Hockey League (NHL) parent club in Boston.
Tiernan and his wife Dorothy (nee McNally) lived for many years in a Matunick beach home. After Dorothy died he moved to a condominium elsewhere in South Kingstown. Bob and Dorothy were the parents of three sons and grandparents of two grandchildren. He died on October 15, 2014 at the age of 85 and is buried at the New St. Francis Cemetery in South Kingstown, Rhode Island.
Lawrence C. Reid